What is GitHub? The open source code sharing and publishing service explained


GitHub is a platform that a lot of people stumble upon for a variety of reasons, but what is it? Here is an explanation of Git and its impact on the Internet.

Falling into rabbit holes is a big part of internet use these days, and most of those holes end up with people on GitHub, and no idea what the site is. Anyone who has ever taken a look at mods for video games or custom software for phones has probably landed on this popular but rarely discussed platform.

To get started, an understanding of version controls is necessary. As anyone with a connected device online can attest, most electronic devices undergo downloadable updates. These updates install new versions of existing programs. This aspect of software engineering is called version control and involves developers knowing which parts of existing code to change. However, blindly making changes without tracking those changes is incredibly risky, so programmers rely on version control repositories to keep a history of all the different versions throughout a program’s history. Git was one of the most popular version control tools, and it aimed to give multiple developers a way to collaborate when updating code.

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Previously, performing these type of updates involved downloading the entire repository, making the desired changes, and then downloading the new version again. GitHub streamlines this process by keeping a program’s complete version history in one place online. Users can collaborate without having to store local copies of a program, and they also control who has what types of authority and access. This type of online collaboration is reinforced by the platform’s “pull request” functionality. Anyone on a project who has an idea for a change can start working on their changes and alert the project owner (s). From there, these changes can be worked out collaboratively until everyone involved is ready to merge them into the original system. In short, GitHub is a website that allows people to code things as a team.

The most common interaction that most people, especially those who aren’t coders, have with GitHub is through its open source options. Depending on the type of project it is, the code is often shared freely on GitHub for people to download and install to modify something they already own. Video game mods are a great example of open source code available to just about anyone on GitHub. In keeping with the platform’s original goal of enabling users to code collaboratively online, even open source GitHub projects have a hierarchy of authority and can be handled by multiple people. That’s why people who come up with their own software patches tend to publicly link to their GitHub repositories … just in time for our rabbit holes to get us there.

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